Eadweard Muybridge Cockatoo; flying, Plate 759 1887

Eadweard Muybridge
Cockatoo; flying, Plate 759 1887

© Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Animal Locomotion

Muybridge made his most influential images, the 781 plates of Animal Locomotion, for the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, between 1884 and 1887. After a dispute with Leland Stanford, Muybridge proposed reworking his earlier motion studies using the new, gelatin dry plate process with improved timing technology. Dr William Pepper, the university’s provost, committed $5,000 to the project (which ultimately cost $30,000), intending that Muybridge’s photographs would contribute to research in medicine, physiology, anthropology and sport. Contrary to the project’s published title, only around 200 of the published collotype prints are of animals. Most, again, show horses in motion (Muybridge had promised potential subscribers that he would photograph their own horses in return for financial support). With humans, Muybridge recorded most forms of movement, sometimes introducing more than a note of whimsy into the actions he got his models to undertake. He divided his results into a typological framework typical of the period, grouping men above women, and the nude before the draped or clothed. Straddling science and art, Muybridge’s achievement is even more remarkable in that, at this time, controversy about nudity flared up in Philadelphia, after painter Thomas Eakins was sacked for allowing female students to see a naked male model in the Life Class.